- Recovery Time
What Is a Meniscus Tear?
The meniscus is a crescent-shaped pad of cartilage located in the knee that helps stabilize and cushion the joint.
Meniscus tears are common injuries that often occur from sports injuries or aging.
What Are Symptoms of a Meniscus Tear?
Symptoms of a meniscus tear include:
- Knee pain
- Knee swelling
- Difficulty bending and straightening the leg
- A popping or tearing sensation at the time of injury
- The feeling the knee is locking or catching
- The knee “giving out”
- Feeling the knee is not moving properly
- Inability to squat or kneel
What Causes a Meniscus Tear?
Meniscus tears are usually caused by rotation or twisting of the knee. This frequently occurs in sports that involve quick changes in speed and direction such as:
How Is a Meniscus Tear Diagnosed?
A meniscus tear is diagnosed with a history and physical. During the physical exam, the doctor may do certain motion tests to help determine if a tear is present, including:
- Thessaly test to simulate the loading forces placed upon the knee
- McMurray maneuver to assess joint motion and meniscal injury
- Apley test to determine where the pain is localized
- Bounce home test to help determine the presence of a meniscal tear
Imaging tests used to help diagnose a meniscal tear include:
Arthroscopy may also be used, which is a minimally invasive surgical procedure in which a small scope with a camera on the end is inserted into the patients knee to visualize the structures.
What Is the Treatment for a Meniscus Tear?
If the meniscus tear is minor, the initial treatment is conservative and involves:
- Ice every 15 minutes, every 4 to 6 hours
- Compression with an ACE wrap or sleeve
- Elevation of the leg
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) for pain
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
- Use of crutches if pain is severe
- Use of a knee brace if knee “gives out”
- Physical therapy that involves straight leg raising exercises without weights once the pain begins to subside
If the meniscal tear is severe, surgery may be required. Surgery to repair a meniscus may be performed arthroscopically through small incisions, or open, with a larger incision. Types of meniscus surgery include:
- Partial or total meniscectomy (removal of the meniscus)
- Repair of the meniscal tear
Can You Walk Right Away After Meniscus Surgery?
How soon you can walk after meniscus surgery depends on whether the surgery was open or arthroscopic, whether it was a partial or total removal of the meniscus, or whether the meniscus was repaired. In any case, patients are usually advised to stay off their feet and the use of crutches may be advised for at least several days. A knee brace may also be recommended. It may take several weeks before patients can walk without a knee brace and months before they have healed enough to return to sports.
Recovery from arthroscopic meniscus repair usually requires a period of limited weight-bearing (using crutches or walker), limited motion, and sometimes use of a knee brace. It usually takes about 4 to 8 weeks for patients to increase weight bearing and range of motion. Most patients can walk without a knee brace and crutches in about 2 to 3 months.
Recovery time from a partial meniscectomy (partial removal of the meniscus) is quicker than recovery from a meniscus repair. Patients are usually advised to used crutches for a few days and to take it easy for 10 to 14 days, but most can increase activity levels at their own pace after that if they do not experience any pain. For those who have strenuous occupations, the recovery time may be up to 6 to 8 weeks before they can fully resume physically demanding activities.
What Are Complications of a Meniscus Tear?
Complications of a meniscus tear include:
- Persistent knee pain
- Inability to move the knee normally
- Predisposition to developing osteoarthritis
How Do You Prevent a Meniscus Tear?
Meniscus tears often occur due to accidents, so they can be difficult to prevent. However, there are some precautions that can be taken to minimize the risk of developing a torn meniscus:
- Warm up before exercise
- Maintain thigh muscle strength with exercise
- Strengthen the core muscles (if these are weak, it may add stress to muscles and joints around the knees)
- Get adequate rest between workouts
- Perform flexibility exercises
- Wear shoes with proper fit and support
- Increase workout intensity gradually
- Use protective gear for your particular sport
- Wear a knee brace for extra support